Does Coaching Really Work?


My colleague and I recently ran a little coaching experiment.  We offered 60-minute coaching sessions to 10 leaders from different industries, countries and age groups without cost.  Why?  So we could find out more about the challenges leaders are facing and whether our coaching style could help.

So what did most leaders want to focus on in 60 minutes?

  • Their career direction / career change
  • Developing their confidence after a tough setback
  • Strategies for managing complex workloads, working more than living
  • Finding out what they really wanted from work

What was the outcome?

Even after 1 short session many were identifying instant benefits, “aha” moments and offering testimonials.

“After my session I realised that hoping for a strategy after only one hour of coaching was probably wishful thinking. But, in the days that followed, I realised I had some new knowledge about myself – or at the very least a new way of framing my understanding of how I act in the workplace. This in and of itself has been very empowering!”

Some, however, were raving about the experience more than others. We identified 2 main factors influencing this;

Firstly, the non-directive approach didn’t work for everyone. 3 out of 10 leaders wanted advice, guidance and the ‘answer’.   One had moved to the other side of the world, felt disconnected from friends and family and was experiencing the hangover of working in a tough leadership role.   The time for asking questions was over. She wanted advice. Now.

Others, however, responded positively to non-directive coaching.

Understanding how to approach an area of personal development will always be most successful (and powerful) if the coachee gets to the answer themselves: either that epiphanous moment when you think, “Oh, yes, of course – why didn’t I think of that sooner?” or when you look back and realise that the many small changes to the way you have addressed something has actually got you to where you wanted to be.”

Secondly, how the leader perceives the coach influences their experience.   9 out of the 10 leaders had experienced coaching before, typically from colleagues, older and more senior than themselves.   Now they were having a ‘proper’ session with an experienced / professional coach who had been around the block.     Being able to speak their mind in a non-judgemental environment, free from the biases of internal politics and corporate expectations of how ‘a leader should be’ felt liberating, as described by one of the leaders:

“One of the greatest benefits of coaching is that the coach does not have to have any knowledge of the ‘technical’ aspects of an issue. This means that they can (and should) be completely unbiased about a situation. This allows the person being coached to explore, unfettered by expectation, the cause and (hopefully) resolution to their obstacles.” 

It’s difficult to say whether this was down to our experience-level as professional coaches or the leaders’ perception of the neutrality and safe haven. Either way, it worked for almost all of the group!

What did we learn?

After a single 60-minute coaching session, we were surprised how much the leaders took away from the experience.   Since the coaching took place, one leader has landed a new position after working in the same place for 15 years. This wasn’t, of course, solely due to our project, but as he says ‘It’s amazing what you can do when you focus…’

So, our conclusion from this short study….

Does coaching work?



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